Junk Mail: Kacey Musgraves 'Pageant Material' Album Review
Welcome to Junk Mail, where a few Music Times staffers email back-and-forth about each week's biggest release throughout the work day. This week, Carolyn Menyes, Yasmin Merchant, Ryan Middleton and Armon Sadler chat about Kacey Musgraves' new album Pageant Material.
Carolyn Menyes: After breaking out in a big way with her 2013 album Same Trailer Different Park, Kacey Musgraves finally followed up her critically-acclaimed, Grammy-winning record with Pageant Material. Musgraves built her career on songwriting for the likes of Miranda Lambert and Martina McBride so of course the lyricism is clever and snarky and heartfelt on this album, and that's what really helps it to win for me. I do, however, think that this may just be Same Trailer Different Park Part Two. I don't know if Musgraves really broke out of that small town box quite yet. What are y'all's initial thoughts?
Yasmin Merchant: I do not typically listen to country, which makes me the worst Texan ever, but I really enjoyed this album. It reminded me of the old school country my dad likes to listen to - not in a bad way, in a nostalgic way. It is very easy listening and I find the lyrics really relatable. I especially like the songs "Pageant Material," "Biscuits" and "Somebody to Love." The only problem I had was that there's a lot of slow, easygoing songs so I couldn't listen to several in a row without getting a little sleepy.
Ryan Middleton: Yasmin, to play on stereotypes makes you a pretty bad Texan, especially not listening to a small town girl in Kacey Musgraves. For me, the album has a nice balance of the more upbeat songs and some slower, more easy going tracks.
With Pageant Material, Musgraves plays to her strengths of being a small town Southern girl. Unlike some country singers who sport the Southern accent because Nashville tells them to, Musgraves is super authentic and that has been a big part of her appeal since her breakout in 2013.
Armon Sadler: Definitely have to preface my comments by saying I typically do not choose to listen to country, but I can appreciate good music when I hear it. That being said, I like the album. I want to echo the sentiments of Ryan and Carolyn, in that she she does sound like a small town girl. I think it works for her.
I always like to think about the album title as I go through the album and if the songs pertain to the meaning I feel the title gives off. Kacey Musgraves looks to me like the type of girl we could see in a pageant. Additionally, we've established she's this small town girl and she put a lot of emotion into the songs on this album; perhaps to convey the idea her fictional self throughout the album wants to be more than this small town girl, and believes she is pageant material. A pageant to her may represent this escape from that?
Did I get way too deep there? What do you guys think?
CM: Am I here repping the country fans? I'm not an expert by any extension of the imagination, but I loved Same Trailer Different Park and I tend to enjoy the likes of Sturgill Simpson or Eric Church, who embody this sort of other kind of country while Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan dominate radio play. Musgraves plays in to this sort of retro country vibe perfectly, though she injects way more pop than some of my other favs.
This plays into Pageant Material, and I hate to say that you kind of missed the mark. Sure, Musgraves is smokin', but if you actually look at the lyrics at "Pageant Material" the song, it's just another track of Musgraves saying that she doesn't fit into the Southern belle or pageant girl stereotype.
"I'm always higher than my hair / And it ain't that I don't care about world peace / But I don't see how I can fix it in a swimsuit on stage," she sings. It's all about Musgraves being the weed-lovin', LGBT-friendly country rebel that she is. For some reason, I tend to be really underwhelmed by title tracks, but I think that "Pageant Material" is a great centerpiece for this record. It has everything that makes Kacey Musgraves Kacey Musgraves. And I can't help but relate to the song's lyrics. I ain't exactly Miss Congenial either.
While we're talking about lyrics, what do you guys think of the content of Pageant Material? It's so small town and be yourself. It's a lot of what we've heard from her before and maybe that's a little gripe I have. Do you guys think the lyrics can be a little repetitive?
YM: She may get a little repetitive at times, but I think it is due to the ongoing struggle she seems to have. She obviously loves her hometown and her country roots, in "Dime Store Cowgirl" she pulls the cliché "You can take me out of the country / But you can't take the country out of me." But at times she does not fit in and needs to break out.
I felt a lot of that conflict in "This Town." I think she emphasizes being yourself because in small towns, "it's too small to be mean." I can relate my own experiences to that - in these cities where everyone knows each other, people can be so critical and judgmental. Everyone knows your business constantly and the gossip always find its way back to you. That probably affected her a lot growing up.
RM: Lyrically the content in the title track "Pageant Material" might be the strongest of the whole album. It strays away from the stereotypes of small-town southern America and how she was never fit for the life of a pinned up princess walking down a walkway to be judged by others.
That same rebelliousness can be found in a few of her other tracks that I really like "Good Ol' Boys Club," which goes after the male-dominated country music scene and how she has been making and putting out music since she was 11 without being the puppet of some male label heads. In a smaller and more subtle way, "Late To The Party" is a way of shifting away from the sex, booze and partying found in a lot of bro-country songs that get a lot of air-play as Musgraves really just wants to have a "party of two."
AS: She ain't pageant material, I ain't lyric analyzing material. But you're right, that one went right over my head.
I see what you mean now though, especially upon listening closely to "Die Fun." That song completely conveys everything you said. I enjoyed the song as well. For a song talking about "love hard, live fast, die fun" that you'd expect to be upbeat and energetic, it's rather calm and melodic. I like the spin, as I was more drawn to focus on the lyrics because the music wasn't distracting.
I also really enjoyed "Cup of Tea" as it carried a message similar to what Ryan just pointed out. She's basically saying you can't be what everyone wants you to be, so why even try? There's nothing wrong with being different and not living up to people's expectations of you. I feel that a lot.
"High Time" was a really great way to kick off the album in my opinion. The music goes along really well with the lyrics. This is one of the more upbeat songs on the album and this kicks of the "be yourself and live your own life" campaign carried throughout the album is songs like "Biscuits," "Pageant Material," and "Cup of Tea."
Do you guys think this will be a hit with fans like Same Trailer Different Park was? Is there anything missing?
CM: I do think that fans are going to enjoy Pageant Material. I mean, full disclosure, I am a Kacey Musgraves fan and I like this record a lot. It has everything that fans expect: the sassy "be yourself" tracks in "Cup of Tea" and "Biscuits" (which would make a great snack), heartfelt emotional declarations ("Die Fun," "Somebody to Love") and the touches of really old school country that make Musgraves so wholly unique ("Family Is Family").
She shines equally in all these arenas. I'm a sucker so I love the slow jams. Her voice is so vulnerable and beautiful in "Die Fun" that she really makes the lyrics shine. It's such a beautiful sentiment. I also love the nostalgic flavor she brings along with her. It makes everything so unique and fun.
We haven't touched on this yet, but "Biscuits" was a great lead single choice. It's almost thematically a little too close to "Follow Your Arrow," but it's much snarkier. And the line "Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy" is so immediately quotable. Waiting for the signs and T-shirts, tbh.
YM: "Biscuits" is similar to "Follow Your Arrow" but I think they complement each other nicely. I see them as two different perspectives on the same issue. In "Follow Your Arrow" she talks about how it's impossible to please everyone so you should just ignore all of them and follow your own path. "You're damned if you do / And you're damned if you don't / So you might as well just do / Whatever you want."
In "Biscuits" I think she is building on the same story by addressing all of the judgmental people she mentioned in the verses of "Follow Your Arrow" and telling them that their attitudes are pointless. It definitely is snarkier, especially with the lines "Pourin' salt in my sugar won't make yours any sweeter / Pissin' in my yard ain't gonna make yours any greener." There are many great lines that are probably going to be printed onto various Etsy merchandise.
RM: The choice of "Biscuits" was a very good lead single with its folksy country banjo and guitar, going back to the authentic sound that she has as an artist. The message of individualism is wholly American and sets the tone for the rest of the album.
Thematically, the album is a bit repetitive, but there are MUCH WORSE topics to choose then individualism and blazing your own path. The balance between the soft, more vulnerable songs is interesting in how she switches tone from the more powerful woman in tracks like the title track to taking a step back in those softer tracks like "Die Fun" and admitting that there is still a lot to figure out in life.
AS: To build off of that last paragraph, it's interesting the turn "Miserable" takes in comparison to the rest of the album. She spends the song describing someone she knows who only sees the negatives in his or her life. This person claims to want to be happy but in reality appears to be comfortable being sad. She finishes the song with "If misery loves company then I can't keep you company no more." She's all about living her life and enjoying it, and evidently she isn't willing to try and force her "friend," (I guess you could call it) to do the same.
I feel like after first listen people will immediately think she's trying to motivate listeners, which she definitely is. But this song makes it clear that at the end of the day, if people don't want to get on board, she won't stick around and try to make them. "Can't laugh enough for the both of us" is a really powerful line to me that sums all of that up.
CM: Musgraves definitely knows what she's doing when it comes to appealing to her audience and working that small town girl thing. Other than the repetitive thing, I have no major gripes about this record. Do you guys have anything you hated before we wrap this up, or should we tally this one as another early Grammy contender?
YM: It does get a little repetitive and some of the songs kind of run together in my opinion. But other than that, I think this could definitely be a Grammy contender.
RM: She does know how to work her audience and remains authentic as a small town girl. She sticks to that theme a little too much, but there are signs of her branching out to topics of love. This will probably be an early frontrunner for Best Country Album at the Grammys.
AS: Yep, definitely a Grammy nomination or two in her future because of this album. I'd agree with all of you.
CM: Kacey Musgraves played into her own hand again on Pageant Material and proved that she can be just as effective as her first major label go-around. From the tender to the sassy to the folky, each song on this album is expertly crafted for ultimate country music pleasure. This record is definitely deserving of a few pageant titles, if not more.
YM: This album is sure to please the diehard fans and those who are unfamiliar with Kacey Musgraves. I rarely find myself enjoying an entire country album, so if I could do it than I'm sure nearly everyone can. I am excited to see how Pageant Material does and what she puts out in the future.
RM: Kacey Musgraves has been releasing music since she was 11 and in her second major label album, she shows she is still authentic and connected to her small town roots, despite hitting it big two years ago. The album sounds complete from start to finish and sets her up for more growth as an artist. She needs to branch out more thematically, but the groundwork is there for a potential superstar career.
AS: I am far from a country music expert or fanatic, but I can say that after sitting down and taking the time to listen and understand Kacey Musgraves' perspective, I like the album a lot. It's always nice to be able to listen to an album all the way through and when you can feel certain songs. A job well done, I can't wait to see how it does with the public. Kacey's also bae, but I promise I'm not biased.